Engineered Wetland Evaluation

Research Project: 


Project Manager: 

Joan S. (Thullen) Daniels
White-faced ibis in flight over the Hemet/San Jacinto Wetland Research Facility north of San Jacinto, California. The ibis have used this constructed treatment wetland for nesting shortly after it was created.

Municipal, agricultural, and industrial development in the arid western U.S. depletes already-scarce water resources needed to maintain wetland and riparian habitat. Ongoing loss of these habitats threatens a wide range of wetland- and riparian-dependent fish and wildlife resources. Often, the only water available for maintaining, restoring, or creating wetland and riparian habitat may be of impaired quality, such as reclaimed municipal wastewater, agricultural or stormwater drainage, or nitrate-contaminated groundwater. Associated with these waters are human and wildlife health risks that need to be remediated prior to reuse. USGS scientists are researching techniques for removing these contaminants naturally using constructed wetlands. Current research is focused on creating cost-effective systems, with long-term sustainability, to reduce high nitrate levels in the water (shown to cause methemoglobinemia, or “blue-baby” syndrome) and to reduce or remediate endocrine-disrupting compounds that negatively affect exposed aquatic organisms. USGS investigators design and subsequently analyze data from pilot wetland systems to determine how water quality, hydrology, wetland configuration, species composition of native aquatic vegetation, aquatic invertebrate communities, and the biogeochemistry interact. By examining those interactions they can design more effective treatment wetlands by optimizing specific wetland functions. The results obtained through their research will give rise to natural, low-energy-consuming strategies that stakeholders managing existing wetland systems and those interested in building new ones can use to effectively improve water quality and create or maintain healthy ecosystems.